I watched this game at work, but I pulled it off my DVR and starting watching it again as soon as I got home (**if you haven’t watched the game, Comcast is replaying it at 6:30 PM**). In the three seconds it took me to realize that there was no reason to watch Portland beat the Hornets for the second time in one day, and that Oklahoma City/Boston was on TNT featuring the soon-to-be best color commentator in the business Chris Webber, I heard Portland’s play-by-play man Mike Barrett say that New Orleans, lacking much in the way of scoring talent would be looking to dirty it up, and in that way might be able to steal one from the sliding Blazers.
Whether or not former Blazer assistant Monty Williams went into Monday’s MLK Jr. Day afternooner with the plan of playing a gross game that both teams tried very hard to lose, that’s what ended up happening. I know there are going to be a lot of people that will look at Monday’s performance and say playing sloppy and never really putting away the worst team in the NBA is an indication of some serious problems with this Portland team that not a week ago was at the top of the heap. I’m going to politely disagree.
Yes, the Blazers didn’t play well, and yes they were unable to carry a double-digit lead through the entire fourth quarter, but (as I seem to have said in almost every recap this season) this season is flat-out nuts. Road wins are going to be hard to come by, that they are going to be the difference maker between having a good season or having a bad season. A 30-point blowout with LaMarcus Aldridge getting to sit the entire second half would have been fantastic. It didn’t happen, but you take a seven-point win every time.
NBA broadcasters, especially those that work the national circuit, love to say that all it takes for a shooter to get hot is seeing the ball go through the rim one time. Expand on that to the team level, and seeing a road game in the win column might be all this group needs to catch fire and end this swing with a winning record. Anything is possible.
The Blazers have oft been accused of playing to the level of their competition. It’s a damning accusation either way. It means they play better than they should against good teams, and worse than they should against bad teams. I do believe that this Portland team is good enough to be considered one of the Western Conference’s elite, but it is true that against a bad team, especially on the road, they just don’t seem to be able to find that next gear.
Monday that was very clear at the end of the second quarter, and at the end of the second half. During these parts of the game it seemed like there just wasn’t anything happening on offense. Portland has a lot of good freelancers, which can work when they’re all clicking or if they are playing against a defense that doesn’t play a lot of body-to-body defense. Monday and the end of both halves the offense mostly consisted of standing around, and NOLA’s defensive pressure kept Portland from getting easy shots or even getting shots at all.
In between struggling to finish the first half and the game, LaMarcus Aldridge went on a tear that gave Portland the win. LA’s performance in the third quarter was great, as good as he’s been all season, but it’s the failure of this offense to get scores at the end of quarters is something to worry about.
Mostly, Portland’s offensive failures come at the point guard position. Both Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford made plenty of ball handling errors that led to turnovers, they both missed a lot of shots, and they both contributed to the offense stalling out at a few key moments. Felton has to play better. It’s as simple as that. He tends to get a little loose down the stretch, and his shots just haven’t been falling. The ball handling issues are going to have to be addressed by head coach Nate McMillan.
The shooting is another beast. Just like Felton, Crawford has struggled to find his shot through 13 games, but Crawford is going to have to keep shooting. Felton, on the other hand, might want to think about not shooting, or at least putting the ball on the deck and attacking the rim. Felton is pretty good going to the hoop, much better than he is as a spot-up shooter, plus getting fouled and getting to the line is an easy way to get comfortable shooting the ball. Monday, Felton went 1-of-8 from the field, finishing with two points. He added 12 assists, which helped, but they were almost completely negated by eight turnovers.
Jamal Crawford shot 2-of-8 from the field, 1-of-4 from three, and contributed seven assists and four turnovers. Twelve of Portland’s 17 turnovers went to Felton and Crawford.
Portland wasn’t all bad Monday. I mean they did get the win after all. Nicolas Batum led in the positive category with 19 points in 32 minutes (although he did have a team low in the plus/minus category with -9). LA was there too, finishing with 22 points, and the flourish to start the third quarter that ended up being the difference. My personal favorite positive stat from Monday: Kurt Thomas 4-of-5 shooting and a +17.
The Blazers play another winnable game that will be the determinant of whether or not this can still be a winning road trip in Atlanta on Wednesday.
Couple of quick things:
- LaMarcus Aldridge was named to the 20-man US Olympic roster earlier today. LA deserves to make the team, but who knows if he will. I think the last guy to play for the Blazers and Team USA was Shawn Kemp. I think LaMarcus is a much better representative of this franchise than Kemp.
- Portland has nosedived in the weekly power rankings thanks to a three-game slide. The positive press the Blazers received during the first week of the season has it’s downsides, not lest among them that Portland is ESPN’s biggest loser of the week in it’s rankings. However, I feel like this team might benefit some from being relegated to underdog status. They aren’t going to finish number one in the conference, and they aren’t going to fall all the way to eighth–or god forbid anything higher than that–my guess is they finish somewhere between three and five. That finish might make some of the name pundits that jumped all over Portland seem a bit less credible, but these guys shouldn’t be playing for the benefit of the Steve Kerrs of the world.
- One of New Orleans’s bright spots was the play of Gustavo Ayon. The rookie from Mexico hit 4-of-5 from the field, finishing with eight points and five rebounds in 21 minutes. The play of Ayon probably is was kept Carl Landry to only 10 minutes of PT.
- Minutes watch for Portland: 32:01 for Nicolas Batum. In his piece over at Portland Roundball Society about the necessity of locking up Nicolas Batum sooner than later, Sean Highkin brings up the point that Nic plays much better when his minutes are in the 30s. That seems to be true over the last two games.
- The stream I watched at work featured the NOLA announcers. At one point in the game they spent about 10 minutes talking to Eric Gordon, the de facto replacement for Chris Paul who has played only two games so far this season. The conversation drifted from inspiring the younger players that pepper Monty Williams’ roster to his favorite place to go for gumbo in the Big Easy, completing ignoring the game on the floor. It was a little different that what I was used to listening to Mike and Mike call games locally.
email me: [email protected]